Exploring our Senses in AP Psych

The AP Psychology class has just completed the study of sensation and perception where students explored the connections between physiology and psychology. They studied how information is gathered from the environment through our senses and how that information is interpreted and processed. Not only did they explore the six (not 5) human senses, but they also became familiar with general principles that promote awareness of our external world.  Here are a few of the discoveries that my students made that can easily be applied to the real world.

#1. Why did they get caught with Ms. Q’s  “trick”?. Students were asked to say out loud what the written letters “FOLK” spelled. Then “CROAK” and finally what the letters “SOAK”spelled. They were then asked, “What do we call the white of an egg?” Yes, you guessed it: those who answered called out “Yolk!”  This demonstrated the power of perceptual set, a mental predisposition that we have to perceive things in a particular way, based on our expectations.

#2. Why is it that if Christian is chatting with someone at a crowded noisy party and is totally engrossed in a conversation, he can suddenly hear his name being mentioned in another conversion way across the room and easily switch his attention? Or for that matter, how could he even focus on that first conversation he was engaged in and block out all the noise? Students learnt that selective attention is at work here and hearing his name is termed the cocktail party effect, an example of selective attention.

#3. Or how top down processing allows them to  process information so that it's possible to read and understand this: "Yuo cna probably raed tihs esaliy desptie teh msispeillgns." 

#4. Or why is it that they identified the horizontal line in the first figure below as longer than the one in the second figure, even though both are actually the same length! And how does culture influence how people perceive this Muller- Lyer- illusion?




#5. Or why do they see color? How is it that when they stare at the color green, then turn away and look at a blank space, they see a red afterimage? And how might that help to explain color blindness? ?? They discovered that the opponent process theory of color vision is one answer here!

Now it’s your turn:                                                                                                                              

STEP 1: Look at the diagram below and stare at the red ball in the right hand section while you count to forty.

STEP 2: Shift your eyes to the left-hand section.


What do you see?

...And talking about afterimages…. and perceptual illusions of course, let’s merge Shakespeare’s Hamlet with psychology and try this one on for size.                                   

“To see or not to see…...that is the question….”

Stare at the X in Yorick's left eye socket for about 30 seconds. Then look away at a flat surface such as a piece of paper, wall, or ceiling. If you are more patient than some of my students were, you should see Yorick's ghostly afterimage.

Have a safe week-end.


Charmaine Quamina
Grade: 11 & 12
Class: AP Psychology
Current Unit: Sensation & Perception